Wigan Athletic 3 NK Maribor 1

Ben Watson celebrates his headed goal
Ben Watson celebrates his headed goal

WIGAN Athletic welcomed European football to the town in fine style with a richly-deserved victory over Slovenian outfit Maribor.

The margin of the win may have been relatively tight in the end, but the scoreline in no way reflected Wigan’s dominance for the vast majority.

Nick Powell and Ben Watson put Wigan 2-0 up after a first half that the home bossed from start to finish.

Powell had numerous chances to kill the game off, hitting the post from close range with the most clear-cut.

But the on-loan Manchester United man did eventually kill off the game in stoppage-time after Jean Philippe Mendy pulled one back on the hour mark.

The win puts Latics on four points from their two games, and in a great position to qualify for the knockout stages.

Owen Coyle had made only three changes to his weekend selection, bringing in Jean Beausejour, Callum McManaman and skipper Emmerson Boyce for James McClean, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Thomas Rogne.

The Latics chief had spoken in the build-up about wanting to kick-off their home European campaign with a bang.

But even in his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have expected Latics to have settled into their rhythm so well.

Powell should have given Latics the lead in their first attack, the England Under-21 ace finding himself clean through after a defensive mistake.

He bided his time and stabbed the ball goalwards with the outside of his right boot, but Jasmin Handanovic read his mind and made the save.

From the resulting corner, James McArthur dragged his shot wide of the far post.

McArthur then curled a shot well wide of the target from the edge of the area, with Maribor showing themselves for the first time after 10 minutes.

Goran Cvijanovic saw a shot deflected wide for a corner, which was cleared to Ales Mejac.

The left-back stood fully 35 yards from goal, but he took aim and saw his effort fly inches past the post.

Boyce was then fouled 25 yards out from the Maribor goal, but Jordi Gomez could only strike the ball into the wall.

However, Latics wouldn’t be denied and they took the lead midway through the first half - although they owed a great deal to a howler from Handanovic in the Maribor goal.

Beausejour provided the lovely cross from the left, but the goalkeeper could only fluff his punch into the air, allowing Powell to head home from a yard.

Maribor attempted an immediate response when Mendy fired into Carson’s grateful hands.

But the rest of the half was all Latics as they went in search of more goals.

A Watson free-kick flew harmlessly over the top over the top, before the FA Cup hero made his mark on 33 minutes.

Again Beausejour was the architect from the left, and Watson stole in front of the goalkeeper to head into an empty net.

Powell could have made it 3-0 from the restart, when he shot over the top with an unmarked McArthur screaming for the ball in support.

Beausejour couldn’t quite turn in a cross from McManaman, before the young attacker pulled his shot past the post on the stroke of half-time.

The visitors would have been delighted to get to the interval still in the game after being so comprehensively outplayed.

And Latics picked up where they had left off at the start of the second half.

Beausejour’s cross saw Powell hit the post from two yards which would have killed the game stone dead.

And Latics paid the penalty when they conceded their first goal of the competition on the hour mark.

Mendy did all the donkey work, holding off Ryan Shotton and carrying the ball fully 50 yards into the Wigan box before pulling it back.

There were two Wigan defenders on the goal-line, but Tavares’ shot split them and gave Maribor a lifeline they scarcely deserved.

Suddenly the visitors looked a lot better in possession, and Wigan were chasing the ball for a period.

That was the cue for Wigan’s first change, McClean for McManaman.

But Maribor continued to press and Carson had to make a decent save to deny Mendy an equaliser.

Latics nearly made the game safe in the final quarter when Watson’s cross was inches in front of Powell with the goal gaping.

That was Watson’s last involvement, with Chris McCann replacing him with 13 minutes to go.

The visitors made all three changes within quick succession as they looked desperately for a leveller.

And they nearly found one when Mendy pulled the trigger from 25 yards only for Carson to pull off a world-class stop to divert the ball over the top.

With the Slovenians still shaking their heads in disbelief, Latics secured the points when Powell wriggled through and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way in the last minute.

And it was nearly 4-1 in the third added minute when Leon Barnett found himself on the overlap, only to see his shot headed off the line.

Latics: Carson; Boyce, Shotton, Barnett, Perch; McManaman, McArthur, Watson, Beausejour; Gomez; Powell.

Subs: Nicholls, Rogne, Garcia, McCann (for Watson, 77), McClean (for McManaman, 66), Espinoza, Dicko.

Maribor: Handanovic; Milec, Rajcevic, Bordignon, Mejac; Bohar, Mertelj, Filipovic, Cvijanovic; Tavares, Mendy.

Subs: Mezga (for Cvijanovic, 77), Pridigar, Fajic (for Bohar, 83), Dervisevic, Potokar, Viler (for Mejac, 83), Dodlek.

Star Man: Nick Powell